Life of the Jewish Community in Zhetel until World War II
The Way of Life in Zhetel
Under German Occupation: Close to Extermination – Summary
Alter Dvoretzky as the Head of the Judenrat Until forced transfer Into the Ghetto
Establishing the Underground
Life in the Ghetto
Catching Shalom Fyulon
Chaim Weinstein who was 12 at this time – A Story of a Survivor
My Children, My Heroes – Memoirs of a Holocaust Mother – Sonia Minuskin
The Partisans in the Forest Get Organized As a Fighting Unit
The Zhetler Jewish Battalion and its Activities
The Zhetler Battalion Attacks German Strongholds in Towns and Villages
The Committee's Activities for Commemorating the Memorial of Zhetlers
The community of Zhetel was special, unlike other towns, in that it was well-known as a fighter and as being advanced in many areas. Zhetel was blessed with many important and famous Rabbis and personalities, well-known in Jewish circles and worldwide. There were also public figures with initiative and responsibility, and institutions with ambitions towards the future. Then,there were the pioneers who were among the first to immigrate to Israel during the19th century. Zhetel's Jews were among the first to go out to the forests to fight as Partisans against the Nazis and they were known as being brave and great heroes, like the fighters of the Warsaw and Vilna Ghettoes.
The material that was gathered into the book "Zhetel Our Town" is based on "Pinkas Zhetel", the book that came out in 1957 by a former Zhetler, the lawyer Baruch Kaplinsky. That book is considered, even today, as one of the most in depth and extensive books (480 pages) put out on a town in Europe after the Holocaust and for this we give him our thanks.
In addition to the book mentioned, the editorial staff used the video produced by the committee in 1991 and later shown on television, dealing with Zhetel.
"Zhetel – Our Town", is also based on books and articles that were written by Zhetlers and others throughout the years and on the book that was written by M. Cahanovitz, "The Book of the Jewish Partisans". The book was published in order to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the massacre of the Jews of Zhetel by the Germans and their helpers. (1942-2002) by The Committee of Zhetlers in Israel.
Zhetel is the Yiddish name that the Jews gave the town. In Russian, it was called Dyatlovo. In Polish, it was called Zdzieciol. Zhetel was established in 1498. Zhetel lies between Slonim and Novogrodek in Belarus, surrounded by forests, about 170 kilometers west of Minsk and about 150 kilometers south of Vilna.
There are two rivers in Zhetel: The Zhetleke river and the Pomeraike river that go into the Nyeman river, which is 13 kilometers north of the town. The weather in Zhetel is typical of the area. In the winter, the temperature goes 30° below zero and in the summer, it goes over 30° above zero.
It is documented that in the year 1580, the first Jew by the name of Nissan came to Zhetel. From then until 1942, Jews lived there together with the Christian Catholic population. They had a calm and mostly good life together, the Jews with their three synagogues and the Christians with their one Catholic Church.
During its long history, Zhetel had different rulers. In the nineteenth century it went form Lithuanian hands to Russian hands. The First World War years were very hard on the Jews because of the general draft of the Russian army. Many families suffered heavy losses of life and property at the hands of the fleeing Cossacks. There was hunger and continuous poverty. When the Germans arrived, people were forced to do different work.
After the Germans withdrew, Zhetel was in a political chaos when groups of Bolsheviks and Polish legionnaires came and went.
During the period between the two World Wars, under Polish rule, Zhetels' development greatly increased. Although the Polish authorities weren't very nice to the Jews (whose population was close to 3,000 people then), they still gave them freedom to form unions and this was used for public activities, such as establishing two modern schools.
The first was called "Tarbut" (in English Culture) where Hebrew was taught and the second was a Yiddish school supported by those who opposed the Zionists. There were also political organizations according to the different parties which existed in Jewish circles all over Europe. People with the same professions, such as merchants, craftsmen and workers, grouped together.
There were different institutions for helping one another, such as caring for the sick finding room and board for the family of the sick, a committee for taking care of orphans, a bank and others.
There were also Torah study groups. There was one for learning Mishna, another learning the book "Ein Ya'akov" and a Tehilim (Psalms) group.
The vivacious Jewish life encompassed the whole population of Zhetel: the Jews who were the majority, the Poles, the people from Belarus and the few gypsies who lived there. Not only they were affected by life in the town, but also the Jews and Christians who came to Zhetel on special days (market days, competitions days and holidays) from all the villages in the area: Rude, Nakrishok and others in order to participate in these events.
Not only adults but also lively youth hung around the center of the market where there were stores and took part in drama groups, celebration, balls and bazaars. Some of them learned a profession in order to build a bridge between their hometown and the Diaspora and others came on Aliyah to Israel.
Life in the town was interesting and organized. It was on the way to being developed even more but with the outbreak of the Second World War, it tragically came to its end.
All the towns near Zhetel looked the same. The market was in the center. The wind mill was operated either with or without water. Every town had its own matchmaker, joker, fool and Shabbat Gentile. Week after week, year after year, life in Zhetel followed the same pattern.
On Sundays, you could hear the bells ringing from the two ends of the town, from the church and the monastery. The main street filled up with carts and farmers. The happy youngsters would walk in the streets with colorful ribbons and flowers while eating sunflower seeds. Stores were closed. The adults went to pray while the youngsters had a good time playing in the park near the fire-engines.
Tuesdays were special days from 4a.m., farmers would start coming to the marketplace with full carts to catch a good place. Each and every one of them would praise his merchandise whether it be wheat, leather, cows or horses.
During the creation of the world, as told in the Torah in, Bereishit, Tuesday was blessed twice. So this was the day that people chose to get married and to have happy occasions. After a long hard day at the market, the merchants, craftsmen and simple workers danced to the tunes of the Kleizmers the street musicians and had a good time listening to jokes told at parties.
A guest who came to visit Zhetel always found room and board without having to pay for it. On Friday morning merchants would rise early to open their stores, in order to have more time to sell some more of their merchandise to be able to bring home some more money. They would clean their store, close up and run home in order to prepare for Shabbat, the day of rest. Back in their homes, the women would be preparing for Shabbat. The tables were covered from early morn with white tablecloths with warm Chalahs on them. The cholent pots were brought in the morning to bakeries or to houses with big stoves.
Besides the family, there were always guests at the table. You could smell the special air of Shabbat from far and wide. There were two sirens in Zhetel. The first was to inform the shop owners to close their shops, after which the Jews of the town would rush home to prepare for Shabbat. The second siren was a signal to light candles. A Christian at the Mikve would set off the sirens.
After lighting the candles of Shabbat, everybody went to the synagogue. From far away, you could see the light of the candles and from the synagogues, you could hear the sounds of prayer and singing.
After the Shabbat meal, the pleasant sound of the singing of Zemirot, the special songs of Shabbat, filled the streets of Zhetel.
On Shabbat, after the evening Shacharit and reading the Torah, the women would run with rags in their hands to get the pots of cholent for the Shabbat lunchtime meal.
After Shabbat, the important people of the town would gather at the different schools, as well as at the Talmud Torah. They would talk about solutions to problems that arose and would come to decisions.
Two dates marked the end of the Jewish Community of Zhetel, June 30 1941. On this date the Nazis occupied Zhetel. The second date: August 6, 1942 was the terrible last massacre of the Jews of Zhetel. There was a period of 13 months of suffering for the Jews of Zhetel between these two dates, which brought the Jews systematically to their bitter end.
The following are some of these horrible experiences that will be remembered forever, how the beasts in the form of man slaughtered our dear ones from Zhetel.
July 14, 1941 – On this day, the Nazis made public the order that every Jew in Zhetel must wear a Yellow Star on the front and back of their clothes. The purpose of this order was to break the spirit of the Jews of Zhetel to facilitate their physical destruction.
July 15, 1941 – On this day, 120 of the important people of Zhetel were told that they were being taken to work but were shot instead two days later in the forest not so far from Novogrodek. The purpose of this execution was to eliminate of the leading figures of the town in order to prevent the people from organizing a revolt in the future.
November 28, 1941 – The Germans gave the order to the Jews of Zhetel to give up all their valuables, money and gold they had saved over many years.
December 15, 1941 – Four hundred Jews from Zhetel were sent on this day to a labor camp in Dvoretz. The Zhetel Jews fought to survive in Dvoretz until they were murdered by the Nazis.
All these terrible events depressed the Jews of Zhetel, but they were nothing compared to what came afterwards. On February 22, 1942, the Jews of Zhetel were ordered to leave their homes and possessions and move into a closed area, the ghetto.
The Jews in the ghetto moved closer to their tragic end feeling in, crowded, disconnected forever hungry, sick and afraid. In the midst of this dark destruction, two phenomena appear that dispel a bit the dark clouds of the Holocaust and comfort us on our great tragedy.
The first phenomenon was the organization of tens of young men in the Zhetel Ghetto with the lawyer Alter Dvoretsky as their leader. This group stored weapons and planned a revolt in the ghetto.
The second phenomenon was the work of the Judenrat which included the dedicated public figures of the town. This made it much easier on the people in their terrible suffering. But even this suffering was like the Garden of Eden compared with the terrible events that came upon our town.
On April 30, 1942, the Jews of Zhetel were gathered at the old cemetery and about a thousand of them were massaccred in the Kurpishtz Forest.
On August 6, 1942, the remaining Jews of Zhetel were ordered to gather at the marketplace and its close-by buildings and 2500 of them were killed at the new cemetery.
After these two massacres, Zhetel came to its end after having existed for 450 years.
With the coming of civil rule to Zhetel, the Judenrat (Jewish Council) was chosen. Kustin, who was head of the community, was chosen as chairman and Alter Dvoretzky as vice-chairman, but within a short time, he became the chairman, himself.
Dvoretzky studied in Berlin and Vilna and came back to Zhetel after finishing his degree in law and getting married. Alter, who was 37 at the beginning of the war, was well-known as an excellent lawyer and as being active in the area of sport and in the political party called "Poalei Tzion" ("The Workers of Zion"). His personality, his energy and his special abilities helped him make a name for himself before the war and during the war in his role as chairman of the Judenrat and commander of the underground in the ghetto.
With the Nazi occupation, Dvoretzky understood very well what the Germans were planning to do and he took advantage of his position and went out to the villages in order to make contact with the Jews there, especially with the superior craftsmen, such as tailors and shoemakers who worked for the farmers.
In addition to these meetings, Alter had many meetings with Jews who were former political public figures from the nearby villages. He told them about the situation in the different areas awakened them and warned them not to be complacent. He also strengthened his ties with the non-Jewish world around him, which included a group of Soviet citizens who were former soldiers in the Red Army. These connections later became the basis for organizing the underground and for saving Jews.
All of the decrees decided upon by the Germans were passed on to the community of Zhetel by the Judenrat. The committee tried very hard to help the members of the community and the flow of refugees who arrived during this whole period.
At the end of 1941, the underground in Zhetel came into being. The initiator was Alter Dvoretzky who was at the same time working against the Germans in his very important job as Chairman of the Judenrat.
There were sixty people in the underground who were divided into twenty cells of three people each. Based on the discussions that took place after the move into the ghetto, the goals of the underground were as follows:
a. To prepare an armed revolt in case the ghetto would be closed off and is surrounded by Germans.
b. To establish a financial fund to buy weapons and get them into the ghetto.
c. To incite the population of farmers against the Germans so they wouldn't cooperate with them.
The members of the group had to be very careful of the Germans, the local Catholic population and the opposition of the Jewish population to violence that could endanger the lives of the people and disrupt the routine in the ghetto.
And thus, a month before moving into the ghetto, different weapons were already hidden away there in an arms cache. During this time, Dvoretzky met with the German authorities and he understood quite well the reason for their being in Zhetel.
This is how Zhetel had this outstanding phenomenon: The chairman of the Judenrat was Alter Dvoretzky whose job was to be in touch with the Germans and make sure that all their terrible decrees were being kept. But he was also the commander of the Jewish Underground which acted against the Germans and their assistants in order to annul their terrible decrees against the Jews.
And so, while one hand tried to soften the rulers – the cruel occupiers -, the other hand tried to encourage the Jews, his friends, to do blessed activities that could save them from being pursued and oppressed.
Until his death, all his time and effort were devoted to the purpose of saving Jews, until he himself was murdered.
On February 22, 1942 about a half a year after the occupation, the order was posted on bulletin boards and walls of houses: all Jews of the town had until a given date to leave their homes and move into the area of the ghetto (except for two families: the Ben Tzion Paskovsky family and the Betzalel Bousel family. The reason for this was that they owned a leather factory that the Germans needed). (From the testimony of Peretz Bousel).
The area of the ghetto included a number of streets around the big synagogue and "Talmud Torah".The houses there were emptied of their furniture and bunk-beds were built instead. Eight people and more were put in a room.
In a very short time the ghetto was populated as the People walked there with their possessions on their shoulders or in carts, pushed with their own hands. Everyone walked down the street; nobody dared walk on the sidewalk… and they left behind possessions of many generations.
There was a variety of people living in every apartment. Apartments were inhabited by chance, splitting up families – men with their children or alone, husbands without their wives and a mixture of ages and class.
According to the plan from the underground, it was decided to transfer all weapons to the forest near the lighthouse in Nakrishki. While preparing for this plan, Shalom Fyulon was caught under the pretext of buying weapons. His capture changed the fate of all the Jews of Zhetel.
The bitter information about his capture reached the ghetto by way of an acquaintance who worked as a cleaning lady in the office of the city gendarmerie. Vania, who was the contact man between the people of the ghetto and the Russian group, an ex-pilot in the Red Army, was arrested with him. But Vania was released immediately. It was understood afterwards that he was an agent provocateur who cooperated with the Germans. The people in the ghetto and the underground were terrified. The Germans wanted an explanation from Fyulon about every thing but he kept silent. This ignited their murderous anger. It was clear that Alter Dvoretsky was in danger, so he and nine members of the underground ran away from the ghetto to the forest in April 1942. In fact, on that day the Zhetler Partisans started to fight.
There were notices all over the town in Russian and in German with the German's promise of a huge amount of money (25,000 Marks) to anyone who would find the lawyer Alter Dvoretsky, chairman of the Judenrat, and bring him back to Zhetel, dead or alive.
In addition to the help of the police investigators of the town, the local commander of the S.S. of Novogrodek and the hangmen arrived too.
Alters wife and mother were arrested, as was his friend, Bella Bachrach. When she answered that she didn't know where he was, the Sturmführer hit her on the head with a stool, she fell and never got up.
After a while, Alters wife and mother were released. Fyulon was tortured terribly, but even so he managed to throw a note to the room of the blacksmiths that was near the windows of the jail. The note was written with his blood. It said: "I am being terribly tortured. Don't be afraid. I won't open my mouth. If you can, help".
But they couldn't. He died a few days later but kept his promise.
"April 30, 1942. I will always remember that terrible day. Close to morning, in the middle of a deep sleep, my mother woke me up saying: "Chaim'ke, get up quickly. The Germans have laid siege on the ghetto and are indiscriminately shooting everywhere" I woke up shaking and terrified. Outside we could hear shots. I saw Jews in the streets running back and forth not knowing what to do. From far away, I could see a member of the Judenrat, Eli Peitzis, following the demands of the Germans, announcing that all the Jews in the ghetto must come to the old cemetery which was in the ghetto.
My father and I went. It was we saw a terrible sight: The Germans were separating the women, children and old people, who were sent to the left, from the young people who had professions, who were sent to the right. All this was done while shooting, beating and kicking the victims.
My father and I and about a thousand Jews who were on the left were taken through the streets of Zhetel, being kicked and shot at, to the Kurpishtz Forest which was at the end of the town. There, the German murderers and their Polish accomplices started to take groups of about 20 Jews out to the ditches that were prepared previously and shot them. They took my father and killed him. It was a beautiful sunny day and I wanted to live some more, so I kept moving backwards so that I would be one of the last ones to be killed.
Suddenly, the head of the German district appeared and said that Jews who had a certificate that showed that they had a profession would be released with their families. Near me stood Nachum the blacksmith taking out his certificate. I said to him: "Nachum, say that I am your son". And that's what he did.
Thanks to Nachum the blacksmith, I was saved. About a hundred people came back to the ghetto from the ditches, among them myself. In the ghetto, I met my mother, my two sisters and my brother who had been hiding in the house in the ghetto. (Unfortunately, they didn't live very long. They were killed in the Second massacre.)
The next day I went to the synagogue to say kaddish."
Though almost two years had passed since the Germans invaded Poland, villagers of the town of Zhetel, on the Russian border, didn't really grasp the implications of the German army marching into the town for the first time in the late spring of I941.
As if it occurred yesterday, Harold Minuskin remembers German soldiers marching down the street, occupying the town for a couple of weeks to no significant effect.
Two weeks later, six Jewish residents were shot and soon after, the occupiers rounded up about 120 town leaders, rabbis and other influential individuals for what they were told was a work project outside of town. The work, however, was digging open graves for their executions.
Minuskin, a local semiretired NASA researcher, details the event and the ensuing insurgency against the Nazis in his book, "My Children, My Heroes – Memoirs of a Holocaust Mother", written from his translations of his mother's memoirs and his own recollection of living with partisan fighters and families in the forests of Byelorussia. Minuskin's story bears similarity to others of the Jewish resistance hat affected the war effort all over Europe, similar to the struggle of the Bielski brothers told in the recent movie "Defiance," which occurred 30 to 40 miles from where Minuskin's tells his story.
When survivors of neighboring villagers warned Zhetel residents what the Nazis were doing, many brushed it off. "We couldn't believe it the Germans are civilized people. They wouldn't do that" Minuskin recalled.
But some, like his father, had the foresight to know otherwise. Minuskin's father hid the family under an outhouse as the German rounded up hundreds to implement the "Final Solution".
Three days and three nights passed while Minuskin, then 3-years-old hid with his mother brother and eight others in a tight space with no food or water while his father tried to rendezvous with others to fight. When the shooting and Screaming ceased they sought refuse with gentile villagers who turned them away out of fear of Nazi retribution, and ended up hiding in wheat and corn fields before organizing in the forest.
His grandmother and aunt numbered among half the escapees shot and killed he said. His father met a different fate, rounded up with other captives in a synagogue awaiting execution, but in the confusion, escaped by hiding in the building's rafters.
For three years the family lived in the forests with other survivors, struggling to survive and to organize against the Nazis. "There were no facilities. We had to endure the Russian winters. lt was bitter cold. The only food we could get was from near by peasants and they were reluctant", Minuskin said. His mother, like others, would venture out at night, sometimes walking 10 to 12 miles to get a loaf of bread or some milk.
What strength they gained in survival, apparently, transpired into a potent thirst for revenge, as the resistance held on long enough to obtain help from Russian paratroopers. Encountering the renegade fighters, Red Army paratroopers helped train them in hit-and-run tactics against German convoys, enabling them to obtain medical supplies, additional weapons and ammunition, and food. "We were very intent on extracting revenge, because most of the people who made it into the forest had seen their families shot before their eyes." Minuskin said.
Minuskin wrote the story as a tribute to his mother who passed away in November at the age of 102, most of which is taken from his mother's memoirs written in Yiddish while the family lived in a camp for displaced victims in Germany immediately after the war. "The message I want to set through in the book is my mother's determination to keep her two young children alive" he said.
Source: Lorin McLain, "Holocaust survivor details story of survival, revenge in new book" The Daily Courier, March 24, 2009
The preferred way of living in the woods was to be a partisan, to be in contact with and join a unit of fighters and to take revenge on the Nazi murderers. This was on condition that you had weapons: "When we, my brother and I, came to the forest running away from all the murders, our situation was very sad. We didn't have any money. We had to buy a rifle, because that was the condition of our commanders, Pinnie Green and Hirshel Kaplinsky who said, 'Whoever wants to join us must have weapons. This is not the place for those who don't have weapons to defend themselves. Those people should go to the family camps'." (Testimony of Shabtai – Shepsel Lipsky)
Even so, many of the Zhetel Jews running away to the woods joined together and met with those already roaming the woods of Lipichany and gave a push to the intensified activities of the partisans.
This is how the Zhetel Battalion with about 180 young fit Jews who had weapons got organized. Most of the members of the group were Zhetlers. Some individual Jews from Zeludok, Blitze, Koziloishchine and from the camps at Dvoretz and at Novogrodek joined them.
The Soviet commander in the area, Kolya Vachonin, helped in organizing the forces and he gave permission for choosing the commander, Hirsh(el) Kaplinsky. Hirsh(el) Kaplinsky was born in Zhetel. He was the head of the local branch of the "Hashomer Hatzair" there and was a candidate for Aliya to Israel. But the outbreak of war changed things. He lost his whole family, but succeeded in running away to the woods.
Kaplinsky showed initiative and bravery and a talent for organization. He slowly got weapons for his troops, established three platoons, while he himself stood at the head of the first one. Yonah Midvetsky commanded the second platoon and Shalom Ogulnik commanded the third. As the head of the battalion, he established headquarters that included the commanders of the platoons and of the partisans, Pinnie Green and Shalom Gerling. Berl Nikolivky was appointed the political counselor and Chana Mayevsky was appointed the secretary of this and the Soviet battalion.
Each one of the members of the battalion had a defined role, while the women had an important part in organizing different services such as being nurses, secretaries, typists, cooks and taking care of the laundry. Some of them even took part in combat activities.
The first base of the battalion was in the woods of Lipichany between the Shetzara River and the Nyeman River, about 16 kilometers west of the town of Zhetel. The camp of the families was near the camp of the partisans to ensure complete defense at the time of need. The partisan camp started as an economic unit. The trees of the forest and tents were housing for the fighters.
There were other structures where food was stored and where there was a field kitchen with hot water and stoves to cook the food. In the camp of the battalion there were horses and carts, cattle and sheep that were brought by the fighters from their raids on the farmers' houses.
The battalion acted in forming and cultivating connections with the farmers who were around the forest. The partisans went out in groups to ban produce that was supposed to be supplied to the Germans. At the same time, the groups went out to do all kinds of activities. (From the testimony of Chana Mayevsky)
The main role of the Zhetler Jewish battalion was to obtain ammunition and arms and this was not an easy task. Arms were obtained in different ways: by ambushes on German soldiers and their Ukrainian helpers and others, raids on foresters and other collaborators who had light weapons, and purchasing weapons from the villagers who lived near the forest. That is how a supply of weapons was accumulated.
The next action was to clear the area of hostile forces. Many of the village farmers around Zhetel who co-operated with the Germans in exterminating the Zhetel Jews felt the revenge of the Jewish battalion.
Other actions that the battalion took part in were: killing garrisons of the Germans and their collaborators (Ukrainians and Lithuanians), whose base was the villages close to the forest like Rude-Yavorske Nakrishok, and other places and also to sabotage the means of transportation of the German enemy like blowing up bridges, mining the railroad tracks and disconnecting telephone and communication lines. The Zhetler battalion got much appreciation for these two tasks.
A conference of all the commanders of the Lipichn Pustcha took place at the end of October 1942. The participants were: Kola Vachunin – the commander of the Orlanski Battalion, Hirshel Kaplinski – the commander of the Zhetler Battalion and other battalion commanders.
It was decided to plan on attack on the German outpost in the village of Roda Yaborski. The access routes were checked out before the attack by Avraham Magid and nine other partisans.
The main attacking force consisted of the Zhetler Battalion and the Orlanski Battalion. The attacking force was equipped with two 45mm mortars, machine guns and an armored vehicle which was retrieved from the River Schara by the Zhetler partisans. The attacking force was divided into three groups, two of which blockaded the roads leading to the village in order to prevent German reinforcements from reaching the battle field.
The main force, which consisted of the Zhetler Battalion attacked the village. At 08.00 in the morning the attacking force, headed by the armored vehicle, managed to break into the village. Using a loudspeaker they called for the Germans and Ukrainians to surrender. The Germans responded with heavy gunfire. The armored vehicle sent a single shot from its cannon as a signals that the Germans do not surrender. The attack commenced from three directions and lasted about an hour. The entire German outpost was destroyed. There were 50 dead and many wounded Germans. Ten Germans were taken prisoners. In addition the partisans took sixty thousand rounds of ammunitions, many machine guns, rifles, grenades and explosives. The partisans suffered two dead and six wounded.
The reinforcements which were sent from Slonim were turned back by the blocking forces. News of this battle and great victory reached the main partisans headquarters in the Naliboka Puscha.
Zhetler Jewish Partisans who excelled in Battles While Being in the Zhetler Battalion and in Other Battalions Many of the Zhetler Jewish Partisans excelled in their fight against the German oppressors. Here we will tell about some of them:
1. Yisrael Bousel about whom Shalom Gerling wrote and Efraim Shefer translated: "… got his education in Zhetel by his father the blacksmith. He was really an electrician and a locksmith. In 1943 we served together, Yisrael and I, in the partisan Battelion "Borba" (= Struggle) whose commander was Kolya Vachonin. After a short period, the unit broke up and was scattered among other units. Israel was transferred to a unit in which he was the only Jew among 65 Russians and Belarus. His platoon was instructed to execute special missions like: sabotaging railroad lines and blowing up bunkers and trains. In addition, the unit took care of taking apart shells and a putting together mines.
An important source for material for preparing mines was taking apart heavy bombs that weighed 100 kilograms which they stole from the airport. Yisrael was one of the best in putting together mines. He acquired very quickly the skill and technique for preparing them and was liked by everyone.
After preparing enough mines the order came to act: not to allow any train to get to the front between Lida and Baranovitz, between Baranovitz and Minsk and between Volkovisk and Bialistok.
The Germans started being much more careful in guarding the railroad lines. Every meter of the lines was checked by the German army engineering corps by means of special mine detectors, as well as other sophisticated methods.
Many of the mines that the Partisans laid down were discovered by the Germans and neutralized. Tens of mines were wasted. The missions of Bousel's department got harder to fill. The German trains to the front continued to speed on…
Yisrael didn't know what to do. One day he called me and said: "I succeeded in inventing a mine that blows up after lightly touching it". I was happy. I advised him to notify Gorelik the commander. He was happy. Yisrael tried out his new invention for him and for the other commanders. The results amazed everyone. Yisrael became well-known and he even got a gift from Moscow, a new pistol and an automatic rifle. Very soon, use was made of the new mines. Fear arose among the Germans, but also among the partisans.
In June, 1943, Yisrael Bousel was killed by a fatal mine that he invented, while trying to mine the railroad tracks on the line from Lida to Baranovitz, not far from Novoyelna.
After a few hours, matters became clearer. A German patrol that was in the area unexpectedly attacked the Partisans and so as not to fall into their hands, two friends, one of them being Yisrael, blew themselves up as it says, "May I die with the Phillistines." He was 29 when he died. After his death, he was given the medal "Hero of the Soviet Union."
2. The Zhetler partisan Eliyahu Kowinski also excelled in many battles against the Germans. Eliyahu lost one of his hands in one of these battles. Eliyahu himself told about one of the most terrible ones: "On January 19, 1944 I killed 18 Germans. In the battle near Stolptsy, I was with the tank unit. We got an order from headquarters to bomb fortified bunkers.
After a battle of four hours, we succeeded in getting rid of part of the positions of the enemy, and then we got an order to go into the bunkers holding hand-grenades. I got close to one of the bunkers and I threw two hand-grenades through the window. Eightee "Germans were killed instantly.
As I was leaving, many bullets were fired at my fingers. I was wounded, but I didn't pay much attention to my wounds. I rode my horse and swam across the Nyeman river. On the other side of the river, I was bandaged and brought to a medical station. The doctors decided to cut off my fingers, but they didn't have anesthesia. I was in terrible pain. I bit my teeth and almost broke them. Then my friend, the partisan Baruch Levin, came over to me and told me to bite his hand. He then told the doctor to operate. When I goat back to myself a bit, I was taken to the airport in the forest and brought by plane to Moscow. I was in hospitals for eight months and my hand was operated on a few times.
Because of being the hero of the Soviet Union and having different medals: the Partisan Medal – first class, the Red Star, the War of the People and the Lenin Medal – second class, I got very good attention and devoted treatment."
* "Pinkas Zhetel" (Yizkor Book on Zhetel) published in 1957.
* Establishment of charity found.
* Planting of the "Zhetel Forest".
* Erection of a monument at the cemetery in Cholon, Israel.
* Production of a video on Zhetel in 1991 that was shown on Israeli television on Holocaust Day in 1995.
* Construction of a fence around the Jewish cemetery in Zhetel, 1995.
* Scholarships to students who wrote about Zhetel and its Jews, community
* Perpetuation of the memory of the community of Zhetel by means of the estate of Tema and Shlomo Kravitz at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.